Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Wishes (in a bookish sort of way)

One of my fondest Christmas memories is from the winter of ’85.

It was my twelfth celebration of the holidays, and they still held that excitement that is multiplied by childhood; that almost narcotic eagerness that gradually diminishes with the coming of adulthood. I had barely managed to sleep at all that night. I was awake and ready for the festivities to begin by five in the morning. Even pretending to sleep another hour or two was no an option.

The rules for Christmas morning (I believe some people like to refer to them as ‘traditions’) had been firmly established years ago. My younger brother and I knew them well. Mom and Dad were allowed to awaken on heir own, and the unwrapping of presents would only commence when they had bathrobes on and coffee in hand. However, stockings were open game, and could be taken down as soon as we were up. They were huge four foot macramé stockings, and were always stuffed with enough toys and candy to distract us long enough for the coffee to brew.

Hell bent on Xmas booty, I snuck through the dark house and retrieved my stocking, making it to the living room and back without turning on any lights. Unfortunately, the lamp in my bedroom chose that moment to die out, and I found myself stuck in total darkness with a gigantic sock full of goodies. Determined to dig in, I stayed in the pitch black room and dug each item out of the stocking, silently identifying them by size, weight and shape.

The last item, buried at the bottom of the stocking, was also the largest. It was a hardcover book. I could feel slick dust cover and ruffle the pages, but no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not adjust enough for me to make out the title of the book. I could venture into another room and turn on a light, but I was afraid I might accidentally wake Mom and Dad up, and it was way to early for that to be risked.

Unwilling to give up and set the book aside until later, I sat there in the darkness and waited for dawn. The minutes went by slowly. The first light of Christmas morning eventually filled my bedroom, I was finally able to make out he cover of Douglas Adams’ newest novel, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.

I have received countless treasured gifts throughout the years, before and since. But for some reason, my mind will always go back to the frustration, anticipation, and eventual elation of that particular morning. I don’t know why books have always held such a fascination for me. There is something about the bound page and printed word that promises experiences and emotions, thoughts and ideas, that you never suspected were in you.

That fond Christmas memory is now twenty three years old. Age and wisdom may have slightly dimmed the sparkling spectacle of wrapped gifts and bulging stockings. But books still manage to raise a simple and childish joy deep within me. Somehow, they still manage to make me believe. I hesitate to call it magic. Passion might be a better word for it.

No matter where you are, or how you choose to celebrate it, may the Holidays fill you with the same magic, or passion, that it did for me that dimly lit December day.

Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


One would assume that Adam Nimoy wrote this book in an attempt to capture the audiences of two specific markets: The ‘Behind-the-Scenes Hollywood Tell-All’ and the ‘Bizarre and the Horrific Yet Somehow Humorous Memoir’. Of course, the key to writing for a specific market is to give that audience what it wants. This is where Adam’s book fails to deliver.

Behind-the-Scenes readers love to get the inside gossip behind their favorite movies and TV shows. Not only was Adam Nimoy the director of some widely popular and highly successful television programs (Ally McBeal and NYPF Blues), but as the son of the second-most recognizable cast member of the original Star Trek, he had an opportunity to give a unique perspective to the making of the most famous science-fiction show in US history. Considering the number of Star Trek memoirs available (I am Spock, Get a Life, To the Stars, From Sawdust to Stardust, Beam Me Up Scotty and Warped Factors, to name but a few), one more wouldn’t have broken the camel’s back. And considering that the Star Trek franchise simply refuses to die, it isn’t necessarily a bad horse to hitch your wagon to.

But Adam Nimoy doesn’t appear to want anything to do with that. He doesn’t exactly avoid discussing his father’s iconic role as Dr. Spock, but he only mentions it about as frequently as he would have mentioned his father’s vocation if had happened to by a plumber or taxidermist. He gives just enough of a taste to annoy any Star Trek fans who might have reasonably expected more.

It wouldn’t really appear that Adam was trying to sidestep his father’s shadow, except the place where such a familial connection should have been proudly displayed is conspicuously void of any mention. Neither the book’s title, nor it’s underwhelming cover, give any real clue as to who Adam Nimoy is. His last name is the only indication to the casual shelf browser of the most interesting thing about the author.

That list bit may seem harsh, but it is undeniably true. The ups and downs of Nimoy’s life, while well-written and somewhat entertaining, aren’t extreme enough to be terribly engrossing. Addiction to alcohol and marijuana isn’t exactly uncommon these days, and the same goes for people losing their jobs, wives, and self-esteem. That’s why most popular memoirists have survived lives that have been amazingly bizarre (Running with Scissors), side-splittingly funny (Me Talk Pretty One Day), or at least partially fictional (A Million Little Pieces). Adam’s life isn’t any of these. Maybe it would have been more along those lines if he had included more about his film and television experiences.

But maybe that is why he decided to label his book as an Anti-Memoir; because whatever you might be looking for in a memoir from a famous actor’s son, the odds are that you won’t find it here.


To say that Shaun Tan has switched gears with his newest book is an understatement. Tales from Outer Suburbia differs from The Arrival as greatly as Maus differs from Mars Needs Moms!. Tan has shifted from a silent and captivating depiction of the displacement and wonder felt by a family of immigrants, to a collection of endearing short stories about the bizarre happenings in a quaint little town. The good news is that neither the art nor storytelling has suffered from the transition. The art is rich and warm, with a slightly surreal feeling, while the stories are simple tales with deeper philosophical and moralistic meanings blended into the background. This is the kind of book that imaginative children will love, and adults who fondly remember books like Where the Sidewalk Ends will embrace.

Book Quote: NUCLEAR JELLYFISH by Tim Dorsey

"Am I damaged?"

Serge placed a hand on his pal's shoulder. "Coleman, there are three - and only three - kinds of people in this world: Those who don't know they're damaged and blame others; those who realize they're damaged and blame others; and then people like you and me, who wear damage like comfortable pajamas."

Coleman swigged from his pint bottle. "Mine are the ones with the little feet."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black

Michael Ian Black is recognizable from his appearances on numerous TV shows (among them Ed, The State, and Reno 911!), or as co-writer of the Simon Pegg film Run, Fat Boy, Run! Luckily, his comedic talents are not limited to film and television productions.

My Custom Van is a wonderful collection of short (yet powerful) humorous essays that amuse and delight at every page. Covering a range of bizarre topics, Black covers everything from how a chicken might describe himself on a dating service, to reasons not to buy Tundra from a door-to-door salesman, to what must go through Billy Joel’s mind as he drives to a holiday party (my personal favorite). Whether he is compiling a list of New Year resolutions or drafting a suicide note, Black is laugh-out-loud funny with an absurd sense of humor and a dry wit.

If you only buy one book this year, make sure it is McCarthy Cormac’s The Road. But if you manage to purchase two, you might want to squeeze this comedic gem onto your shopping list.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Literary Censorship in New Rochelle

Yes folks, this is the kind of thing you have to keep a lookout for. What's truly scary about this is that most of the acts of literary censorship that take place in America these days are instigated and carried out by our very own educational institutions.

Students at New Rochelle High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachusetts mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angela Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

Book Review: The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen

Stuart Archer Cohen’s new novel is, to say the least, polarizing. His world view and philosophical outlook inform both the message and the tone of the book. So, needless to say, some readers are not going to be pleased with what they find between the covers. But, if you can put your firm and unwavering convictions aside and allow this tale of dictatorship and dissent to speak to you, you might actually enjoy the ride.

One way in which the book will not change some minds is through the hyper-realistic settings and events. When writing a cautionary tale about modern-day events and politics, most authors will either keep the narrative grounded firmly in the real world. Some, however, will make their point by taking real events and situations and exaggerating them to an almost absurd degree. The latter, while sometimes distracting, does not necessarily discredit the message within. 1984, A Brave New World, and Atlas Shrugged are just some examples of philosophical theses successfully encapsulated in a science-fiction or fantasy shell. The Army of the Republic may seem far fetched in some spots, and may occasionally overreach in others. But those perturbed by this might be better off reading a Clancy or Grisham paperback. Deep (and sometimes radical) beliefs occasionally need to be shouted from soap boxes bigger than the real world can currently afford us.

Cohen may not be successful in converting the unconvinced with his spectacular tale of ruthless corporate oligarchs, Blackwater reminiscent death squads, and radical underground movements. But he makes his argument loud, clear, and most importantly, highly entertaining.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Young adult novels have always had a dark side, so to speak; a sub-genre that eschews peer pressure and turbulent relationships for death, despair, and destruction. This is not a recent trend. For every Death Note you find today, you can find an equally disturbing Z for Zachariah. While much of today’s dark teen novels lean towards the supernatural, you will occasionally find one that ventures into more classical science fiction territory. Suzanne Collin’s newest YA novel, The Hunger Games, does so quite successfully. The setting is grim and oppressive, the characters are desperate and hopeless, and the specter of death hangs over every page. And every page will drag the reader eagerly to the next.

Strong and positive female leads are important in young adult novels, and The Hunger Games has the perfect hero in Katniss Everdeen. She is tough, resolute, intelligent, and able. Yet, she still struggles with the same confused feelings and emotions that young girls need to cope with, even when not fighting to the death in a government sponsored reality show/snuff film. As she struggles to survive the deadly prime-time death match she has been unfairly thrust into, she deal not only with these typical teenage dilemmas, but also greater issues concerning government, society, morality, and honor.

All of this might seem like a lot for one book to handle, but Hunger Games manages to do so without coming off too preachy or instructional. Granted, the Hunger Games themselves (which are very reminiscent of previous books like Stephen King’s Running Man, or Koushun Takami’s manga series Battle Royale), as well as the post-apocalyptic dictatorship Panem that holds the event, might not hold up under the scrutiny that hardcore science-fiction novels sometimes demand. But for a young adult science-fantasy novel like this, demanding one-hundred-percent social-political realism seems a tad unfair. What matters is that the characters and setting support the characters and subject matter, and manage to do so with the captivating suspense of any mainstream paperback thriller.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beverly Garland dead at 82

Beverly Garland, famous actress of classic sitcom and cult B-move fame, has died at the age of 82. Among her many films, Garland starred in the Peter Graves/Lee Van Cleef sci-fi fick It Conquered the World as Cleef's wife. "It Conquered the World" is one of the films written about in MONSTER RALLY. Beverly Garland will be both missed and remembered by everyone behind the scenes at Idea Men Productions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ebay Idiots

The problem with selling the occasional used book online is that, on occasion, you will have to deal with an idiot. Most of these idiots contact you with rude emails because the package has not arrived as quickly as they would like, despite the inherent problems with the United States Postal Service. Often, when these idiots do contact you, they are demanding, authoritative, and irritating beyond belief.

Idiots like James from Tulsa, OK, who sent this message about a book ordered two weeks ago for just under $1:

I am about to leave negative feedback for non shipment of the mass murder book. Contact me ASAP or I will file a complaint with Ebay.

My problem, of course, is that I hate it when someone says ASAP to me. My response:

Your book was shipped two days after it was ordered. It was shipped via Media Mail, which can take several weeks to arrive. I will send you another shipment notice through in case you did not receive the last one. Please refrain from threatening action for not receiving items until you have allowed enough time for the item to be received.

James shot back with this:

I ordered almost 2 weeks ago and the notification I received today indicated that it was only shipped today. I am well versed in e-baying and I read all shipping and other details. I am not threating, I was simply stating that if there was not action on your part of the deal, I would take action. It obviously worked since you shipped it today.

And this:

Furthermore, the notification you sent me today said the longest it should take is 12 days. This is what I allowed for and then some before writing and asking for action. This is your "bad", not mine.

My reply:

Let me respond to your multiple messages ASAP.

Directly cut and pasted from

'In general, items shipped via Media Mail should arrive in 2 - 9 days (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) from the time of shipping. It is our experience that Media Mail shipments may take as long as 30 days to arrive. Note that the USPS does not guarantee a specified delivery time for Media Mail and it may receive “deferred service.”'

But, since you are "well versed in e-baying" and "read all shipping and other details", you already knew about the above statement, easily found in the shipping section.

You are also correct that you were not, in fact, threatening. You were simply curt, accusatory, and somewhat rude. I can truly understand this, however, as I am well aware of the vast scams being run on the internet these days. As someone "well versed in e-baying" like you knows, there are nefarious criminals out there who make a fortune selling 99 cent paperback books online, then pocketing the change without ever delivering the promised goods. It is important to catch these fiends ASAP, and your well-timed message was merely meant to let the potential thief know that you were hip to the scam. If you had some other way of assuring yourself that I was not a con artist (such as nearly 400 positive feedbacks over the past three years), I have no doubt your initial communication would not have been as abrasive.

My "bad", as you put it, was not marking the item shipped when it was posted two weeks ago (the tracking information on the package will confirm the ship date). For not informing you ASAP of the immediate shipment of this 99 cent paperback, I must humbly and sincerely apologize.

If, for some reason, your package has not arrived by December 6, please be sure to let me know ASAP so that I may look into the matter. If needed, I will send you the tracking information ASAP so the current whereabouts of the package can be determined.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Undoubtedly, there will be more to follow

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: The Public Domain, by Stephen Fisher

Those looking for quick lists of public domain resources meant for casual perusal and quick consumption will be in for a pleasant surprise. This is not just a guide on where to find public domain materials such as music, photos, and literary works. You will find that information within, but you will find much, much more besides.

Stephen Fishman, an experienced attorney in both government and private practice since 1979, provides all of the legal information that many readers might never have known they needed. Fishman goes into great detail about the history of public domain materials, the legalities of usage and ownership regarding such works, the loopholes to look for, and the pitfalls to avoid.

Other books from Nolo have successfully endeavored to communicate legal information to its readers in clear, simple language. The Public Domain achieves this goal as well, and will undoubtedly act as an indispensable reference to anyone seeking out legally obtainable works in the public domain.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Maybe Michelle Bachmann should just shut up...

Since everyone is jumping on the I Hate Michelle Bachmann bandwagon, I wanted to post this video that went live on The Huffington Post showing another glowing example of prideful ignorance injected into right-wing patriotism.

Never mind that the riots in question at the time had nothing to do with teenagers demanding bigger welfare payouts, but rather neighborhoods who felt that government sanctioned racial discrimination had become commonplace, the catalyst for which was the death of two suburban teens during a high speed police chase. Nobody can really feign shock and surprise anymore when politicians refuse to let facts interfere with a good campaign speech.

The most shocking part of Bachmann's rhetoric is that she seems to have little or no idea exactly how evil or stupid she sounds. "Only in France," she says with a self-indulgent chuckle that would make Rush Limbaugh proud, "could you have suburban youths rioting because welfare benefits aren't generous enough." Then she explains that they're really rioting because they are all watching al Jazeeera on cable TV, and that this was all happening because France was letting the the Muslims come in and take over their culture.

You could spend hours reading into the racist, nationalist, xenophobic, bigoted, and downright ignorant origins of every word the woman forces out of her mouth. Especially about how France "had" a great culture, but they were losing it the Muslims who were refusing to assimilate into the culture. However, I'm going to take a moment to obsess over a little line that slips through the cracks somewhere between the rioting teens and "Not all cultures are equal."

My personal favorite is when she laughs at the absurdity of poor people complaining about not having any money, yet they still have cable television in their apartments. This is the kind of mental slight-of-hand that became real popular back in the late eighties, when it became common to dismiss the idea of poor people by listing the luxuries they had. Rush Limbaugh would spend hours complaining how people considered too poor to pay taxes could afford "luxuries" like air-condition, VCR's (yeah, that's how old this argument is) and even cable TV.

The next time someone complains to you about welfare recipients having dvd players or cable television, tell them to get a pen and paper.

Then tell them to make a column with the cost of a cheap second-hand dvd player, a used television, and the annual rental cost of basic cable.

Then tell them to make a second column with the estimated costs of rent, clothing, groceries (both food and necessities, like toiletries), medical bills, school supplies, and utilities for a family of four currently trying to struggle through hard times on welfare.

Then have him compare the number from the first column to the number from the second column.

Then kick him in the shin. Really hard.

Is it a Lie, or is it Memorex? Michelle Bachmann is not quite sure...

A week ago, Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann was on Hardball with lovable psycho-boy Chris Matthews. When Chris challenged her on her recent statements about Barrack Obama being anti-American, she not only backed her original statement, but gleefully called for McCarthy reminiscent investigations into the patriotism of other office holders.

Reaction was swift, and thankfully, much of that reaction was outrage and disgust. Bachmann's opponent in Minnesota, Elwyn Tinlenberg, received a sudden influx of nearly half a million dollars in donations the next day, while NRCC chairman Tom Cole thanked Bachmann for linking this year's Republican election races to one of the Right Wing's darkest moments in US history by pulling her campaign funds.

Apparently, Michelle Bachmann is not only stupid enough to think that calling for a new political witch hunt was a good call, she's also dumb enough to think that no one would notice if she denied having ever said what she was recording as saying on a major cable news channel.

With both sides calling her an out-and-out idiot, she quickly scrambled to release a recorded statement (good call on avoiding another interview, Michelle) that was neither a retraction, an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the trouble she'd gotten herself into.

What's more mind-boggling to me isn't the complete ambiguity of her statement, but rather the 'choice' she says Americans now face: "We could embrace Government as the answer to our problems, or we could choose Freedom and Liberty." Where do you start to tear this pseudo-intellectual crap apart? Do you start at the inference that or government isn't interesting in or capable of delivering Freedom or Liberty? How about the idea that government is to blame for all of our problems today, so the one thing we shouldn't do is expect it to set things straight? Am I the only person that could read this as a call to Anarchy? And exactly what the hell do Freedom and Liberty have to do with the problems that most Americans are facing today? A lot of people are in agreement that the humongous debacle that our economy has suddenly become can be blamed on a little too much Freedom being afforded to financial institutions over the past few decades. It was a very good call not to make this statement in an interview setting, as I have no doubt Bachmann would have been dumb enough to explain upon questioning that Freedom and Liberty is achieved by preventing the government from actually helping anybody struggle through the hard times that it's blatant mismanagement have caused.

(On a personal note, I find it exceedingly funny that the party Ayn Rand, who became a symbol for them because of her praise of cold rationalism and hatred of unintellectual emotion-based politics, now constantly races to emotional qualifiers like "I know what's in my heart" when cornered on the illogical stances they take. But that's me; I dig irony.)

This is the kind of stuff that drives the logical part of me to irrational degrees of anger and frustration. We live in a day and age where people are recorded with and with out their knowledge to a frightening degree on a daily basis, and these are just the average everyday people with no fear of media scrutiny.

And yet... and yet... not only do politicians repeatedly forget that when it comes to the media, the microphone is always on, they have this stubborn inability to realize that once they have said something on camera, it can be played back again later!

Granted, this attitude might have been more successful twenty years ago, when an adamant denial like the one Bachmann made would only be exposed if the interviewer later dug up the tape and played it, and even then it would be too late to have any real effect of the lie. But now, in the day and age of YouTube, streaming video, viral emails, and relentless bloggers, trying to pull this kind of day-to-day revisionism borders on being absurdly ignorant.

I'm not going to get into the whole Bush/Wristwatch nonsense, because it truly does sadden me, but the fact that side-by-side videos like these are popping up on a weekly basis exposes an underlying truth that we as a collective of people being governed and ruled by these people need to fess up to.

The truth, the honest truth, is that they've always lied like this. They've always treated the public with contempt and disdain, and have always acted on the belief that we never pay attention long enough to actually be aware of what they are really up to. And for the longest time, they've been right. The only reason we are catching up with them and their lies is that they haven't yet figured out how to adapt their way of life to the rapidly changing technology and the new world that is emerging from it.

And when they do, that's when we're really going to have to start watching our backs.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obatman and McPenguin Debate

The similarities between The Penguin's (Burgess Meredith) opening comments in his debate against Batman (Adam West) are eerily reminiscent of John McCain's campaign and its chosen form of attack against Barack Obama.

Holy Liberal Biased Media!

Finally, a candidate I can get behind...

...because I sure as hell wouldn't want to get in his way.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tardy as Charged

For those who check up on me periodically, you might have noticed that I have not posted much in the past months. For this I apologize, as it is a crime for me to withhold my political savvy and brilliance from the rest of the world. This is doubly inexcuseable considering the complete and utter circus this election has become.

My excuse, however, is quite simple: I've been busy with other projects. The biggest of these projects, two books to be published by the end of the year, will be shamelessly promoted on this site when they become available, despite their having nothing to do with politics.

Then again, the focus of the books will be on horror films, and I will be the first to admit that some of the stuff I've been witnessing on the news and in the debates has truly scared the living shit out of me.

But, long story short: I'm back for awhile. I hope you missed me.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania residents: Obama is a Terrorist, Muslim, and Commie Faggot

I live in Branchburg, New Jersey, just across the Delaware river from Easton, Pennsylvania. It is about a twenty minute drive to Bethlehem from my house, a drive that I often make.

Odds are that some of these people actually live near me.

These are the people in your neighborhood.

Mister Rogers wept.

Racism, Ignorance, and Hatred at the PA Palin Rally.

More insightful video of my friendly, thoughtful neighbors in Pennsylvania...

I'd like to think that not all McCain/Palin supporters view the Civil Rights movement as something that happened to other people. I really would.

Pennsylvanian Republicans Show Their Ignorance

The truly sad part is, I live next to these people.

It's nice to know that Hannity's America is actually educating the masses. Jesus.

The Big Lie: Taxes equal Welfare

I've got to blame Obama on this one. He knows who he is dealing with, and he knows how they think. He should have known better to actually utter the phrase "Spread the Wealth" within earshot of anyone, let alone camera crews.

That was all the McCain Campaign needed ramp up their "Liberals are Communists" paranoia. After all, "Spread the Wealth" sounds a lot like "Take from the Rich and Give to the Poor", right? And what could be more UnAmerican than that?

Now, to be perfectly fair to the American public as a whole, I will admit that this is not a tactic that will work across the board. On the contrary, you'd have to be either a complete idiot or a die-hard Republican to actually buy into the idea that Taxes equal Welfare. That's almost like claiming that your landlord demanding rent money is tantamount to Extortion.

Or, to be more blunt, it's a Big Fucking Lie.

Of course, the McCampaign has been throwing BFL's left and right since the race officially started, so tossing one more on the fire doesn't seem like a big deal. But it is almost mind-boggling how big the balls of the Republican Party are when they come right out and say that Taxes are anti-American, except when they do it.

McCain Political Ad #576: Cut his head off

What do informed, educated McCain supporters think of Obama's economic policies?

In the last debate, when racist and violent obscenities shouted during McCain/Palin rallies were brought up, McCain was expected by most logical people to condemn those attacks. Instead, he complained that there were t-shirts at Obama rallies that he thought were hurtful to him, and then went on to defend his supporters against some imagined/unvoiced attack against them as a whole.

It an easy yet transparent trick. If he condemns the idiots in his crowd, he is admitting that a percentage of his supporters are idiots. So instead, he paints a quick picture of his entire base as two-job-working hockey moms and patriotic military veterans, and acts outraged that anyone would dare cast aspersions on these fine Americans.

Meanwhile, realizing that the Ayers/Obama link is gaining little or no ground outside of Hannity's America, the GOP Noise Machine and McCain's Campaign are now lifting the bar by screaming out more recognizable catch-phrases, such as "Marxist" (which I challenge most people leveling the claim to properly define), "Anti-American" (In case you think Markist is that guy with the mustache that walks funny), and "Welfare" to describe any taxes under Obama's plan. The later will probably be the most effective, as the Republicans have spent the last couple of decades heaping fear, lies, and misinformation upon the general public to the point where just hearing the word Welfare evokes mental images of lazy minorities with seventeen illegitimate children cashing government checks and driving off in fur-lined Cadillacs to buy drugs with food stamps. Isn't it great to know that a portion of people on the far Right still see poor people through the filter of seventies exploitation flicks?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Author David Foster Wallace Found Dead, Suicide

CLAREMONT, Calif. - David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel "Infinite Jest," was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace's wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Wallace taught creative writing and English at nearby Pomona College.

"He cared deeply for his students and transformed the lives of many young people," said Dean Gary Kates. "It's a great loss to our teaching faculty."

Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System, gained national attention in 1987 for its ambition and offbeat humor. The New York Times said the 24-year-old author "attempts to give us a portrait, through a combination of Joycean word games, literary parody and zany picaresque adventure, of a contemporary America run amok."

Published in 1996, "Infinite Jest" cemented Wallace's reputation as a major American literary figure. The 1,000-plus-page tome, praised for its complexity and dark wit, topped many best-of lists. Time Magazine named "Infinite Jest" in its issue of the "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005."

Wallace received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997.

In 2002, Wallace was hired to teach at Pomona in a tenured English Department position endowed by Roy E. Disney. Kates said when the school began searching for the ideal candidate, Wallace was the first person considered.

"The committee said, 'we need a person like David Foster Wallace.' They said that in the abstract," Kates said. "When he was approached and accepted, they were heads over heels. He was really the ideal person for the position."

Wallace's short fiction was published in Esquire, GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Collections of his short stories were published as "Girl With Curious Hair" and "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men."

He wrote nonfiction for several publications, including an essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine and a profile of the director David Lynch for Premiere.

Born in Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace attended Amherst College and the University of Arizona.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Brutal. Violent. Relentless. Fun. This could be easily be a four-word review, as these particular words go a long way in preparing you for Duane Swierczynski's third novel, out on the heels of The Blonde. Severance Package does a wonderful job of combining corporate office politics and the deadly world of nothing-is-as-it-seems espionage, raising the question of exactly which profession is more ruthless, cut throat, and soullessly ambitious. One would be tempting to describe it as a cross between The Office and Three Days of the Condor, but that would barely be doing it justice.

Duane Swierczynski’s writing style has one major asset that many authors tend to overlook these days: brevity. His descriptions are colorful and informative, yet they aren’t weighed down by their own poetic license. Characters and locations are set up and knocked down as quickly and efficiently as dominoes, without ever leaving the reader confused or unsatisfied.

Even the story itself, which takes place in the time frame of a few hours, is tight and compact, with all of the action and suspense layered delicately from beginning to end. Swierczynski’s storytelling style is as quick and hard hitting as a lead sap to the temple.

The comic book reminiscent illustrations scattered throughout the book are interesting and fun, even though some might find them a little distracting. Of course, considering that Swierczynski authored the Cable series for Marvel Comics, and is currently helming a six issue run of The Punisher in Garth Ennis’ absence, the presence of the silhouette artwork is understandable.

If you like your novels short, sweet, and chock full of balls-to-the-wall action, you should definitely not pass this one up. Just don’t forget to punch in.

Book Review: How the Rich are Destroying the Earth by Herve Kempf

With a title like this, most people are going to love or hate this book before they even crack open the cover. Polarizing and blunt, the name of the book is the bold declaration of Herve Kempf, and he spares no time in explaining in great detail why he believes this to be true.

The book is slim, a mere 105 pages, with another 17 pages on end notes. But he wastes no time with meandering prose or rampant speculation. Instead, he packs every page with scientific data, researched information, and educated predictions as to where these trends and figures will lead us if they are allowed to continue without intervention.

Some may call such a tome alarmist, but this will not be received negatively, for Kempf is indeed attempting to raise the alarm. His fear is that the rich and powerful of this increasingly global nation are not only depleting and destroying the finite natural resources and life sustaining ecosystem, but the fragile economic balance that keeps the majority of its citizens from being plunged into hopeless poverty and financial ruin.

The message is simple; the small percentage of rich and powerful billionaires who own the majority of the world's wealth are doing everything they can to amass even more, and at the detriment of every living thing on the planet except themselves. It doesn't matter the consequences, they live by three simple rules: Get It, Keep It, then Get More. It is an increasingly unpopular message, especially in an age where unfathomable wealth is easily promised with the click of a mouse, but Kempf does his best to spread the word. He demonstrates not only what damages they wreak upon the Earth and its populace intentionally and with disregard for human life and well being, but also the unintended results that greed and arrogance allow them to overlook.

Yes, most people will indeed judge this book merely by its cover. But that very may well be the point in the first place. If the title of this book angers you, then perhaps you are the one that should be reading it. You might just find yourself surprisingly enlightened.

Book Review: Mental Sharpening Stones by Jeffrey Gingold

Jeffrey Gingold, internationally acclaimed author and Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, has assembled an exceptional collection of articles and interviews featuring techniques for increasing and maintaining cognitive awareness.

The majority of the informative articles in this collection contain numerous helpful tips on how to keep mental faculties sharp and attentive, and ways to keep the stumbling blocks of Multiple Sclerosis from getting in the way of functioning professionally and privately. These include everything from mental exercises and organizational tips, to handy tools that can be utilized to cope with some of the physical setbacks, such as voice recognition programs for word processors.

If you or a loved one has MS, this book will prove to be a useful resource for day to day living.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames

The danger with autobiographical works like The Alcoholic is that they tend to run the risk of forgetting about the audience. Some author/artists (Milk & Cheese creator Evan Dorkin springs easily to mind) delve into this territory with good intentions, but invariable end up obsessed with nothing more than their own shortcomings and failings. The reader is reduced to nothing more than a reluctant therapist, or even worse, a captive audience to one artist’s obsession with hating himself.

Not all works of this nature fall into this trap, however, and The Alcoholic manages to maintain a level of entertainment and engagement from beginning to end. Author Jonathan Ames exposes his life long struggles with love, friendship, relationships, and drugs, but always with an eye towards examining human nature as well as his own motivations.

Dean Haspiel’s art, angular and classic without abandoning realism for style, is the perfect compliment to Ames’ story, and never distracts from the book’s focus by battling the author for the reader’s attention.

Much like American Splendor (on which Dean Haspiel also collaborated), The Alcoholic’s narrative comes across as a self-explorative train of thought as, the author explores the path his life has taken. Ames bares his soul to himself as well as the reader, and examines his past mistakes and blunders without ever sounding preachy or whiny.

Ames also manages to keep a level eye on his life as a whole, and doesn’t hang too much significance on any one event. As a resident of New York during 9/11, Ames shares his experiences and emotions about that tragic event in US history. However, he doesn’t make it the focal point of the book, nor does he use it to bookend the narrative. He displays it for what it was; a traumatic world event that affected him directly forced him to reevaluate his personal behaviors yet again, but than eventually moves on with his life. An event like 9/11 is an easy device for a writer to manipulate an audience’s emotions with, but Ames treats it with the respect and perspective that it deserves.

An autobiographical graphic novel about heartbreak, depression, self-loathing and addiction, The Alcoholic winds up being a tad more uplifting and inspirational than one might expect, and possibly more than the author intended.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Art - The Alternative to Recycling Old Books

my dearest agusta
Originally uploaded by omoo

Book Review: A Dog in a Hat by Joe Parkin

More often than not, sports memoirs usually fall into two major categories; tell-all scandal sheets designed to sell copies through controversy, and lengthy life stories heavily padded with dull and unneeded information.

Joe Parkin's biking memoir does not fall into either of these camps. In A Dog in a Hat, Parkin chronicles the years he spent training and racing in Belgium during the late eighties with brevity and candor, giving the reader plenty of breathing room to enjoy the behind the scenes look at professional bike racing.

Perkin's memoir is about more than just racing. It is a look at the adventures and journeys of an ambitious young man immersing himself in unfamiliar cultures and customs, not only in the intense world of professional team bike racing, but also the foreign land and people that for a short while became his adopted home and family.

Never bitter or overly dramatic, A Dog in a Hat is a professional athlete's fond recollection of a period in his life filled with the experiences and decisions - both good and bad - that not only define the development of an athletic career, but of one man's life journey.

Even if you are not into professional bike racing, A Dog in a Hat is a sports memoir that will amuse, inspire, and entertain.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What I Learned from Watching Fox & Friends This Morning – 7/30/2008

*Three supposedly educated people can argue about a single topic without hitting on the only logical point about it. In discussing whether or not an area of Los Angeles has the right to ban fast food joints because they are unhealthy, several arguments are raised: Should government dictate what we eat, the rising cost of the “obesity epidemic”, supply and demand economics, and how all fat kids will eventually get Diabetes (you can thank Brian ‘Just Read the Sports Scores and Shut the Hell Up’ Kilmeade for that medical update). What no one thinks of mentioning is that restaurants and delicatessens serve unhealthy food as well, they just charge a bit more for it.

*All of the negative press the economy has been getting recently is merely alarmist propaganda, because the conservative host of a financial radio show received anecdotal evidence in the form of emails and phone calls from listeners, who all say that things are going great.

*A recent study that shows Obama gets more negative media coverage than McCain doesn't disprove the theory that the 'Liberal Biased Media' has a love affair with Obama. What it actually proves is that the 'Liberal Biased Media' is falling out of love and beginning to react negatively to Obama's 'Elite' and 'Arrogant' attitude.

*Writers at Fox News still don’t know how to spell Obama.

*Bill O’Reilly has a temper.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

21st Century Advertising for New Home Builders

The cover of Preston John’s book on 21st Century Advertising for New Home Builders features a digital representation of a house on a sleek new laptop, visually promising a book full of information on utilizing today’s technology to its fullest potential when selling homes in today’s marketplace.

What you’ll find inside, however, is a brief little refresher on the basics of marketing and advertising, the kind that you might find yourself subjected to at an overpriced motivational seminar. With its small novelty book dimensions, the book looks, feels, and reads like something you might receive in a goody bag at such an event.

The book opens with an eight page comparison of the housing market to buying eggs, and the level of usefulness never really rises above that. The selling of new homes is neatly broken down into “The 5M’s” (which I will not reveal out of courtesy to prospective readers), which are listed and explained in great detail, but with as little actual detail as possible.

All of the advice and information given is done so in the broadest of general terms. For example: the chapter titled “Questions & Answers” contains only three questions spend over six (little) pages, and the answers are overwhelmingly self-explanatory. “How should I handle TV advertising?” The answer given, of course, is that you should hire a professional advertiser.

The author urges new home builders to purchase and utilize the proper computer software to chart and analyze their market research, but makes no attempt to recommend any specific programs. The chapter dedicated “Online Advertising” does not site a single website. Not even willing to offer the proper documentation for the definition of “Market”, the author forgoes an actual dictionary and instead offers his own definition of what you might find “If you were to look it up in a very conservative dictionary.”

If you were to look up advice in a very informative book, you might actually find detailed examples and lists of sources for further research. Unfortunately, this isn’t that kind of book.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Editing the No Spin Zone

Some people don't like writing in books. I find that sometimes it is actually helpful to mark up a book while slogging through it, especially if it helps you form your thoughts. Books are tools, and occasionally must be used accordingly.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Origins of the Mongoloid Moose

Centuries ago, when mankind was just another damned dirty ape among the other animals, advanced ideas such as irrigation, food storage, and southern fried chicken had not yet percolated in our lightly sloped brainpans. In this barbaric time when fire was new, words were rare, and the wheel was thought to be a passing fad, man had nothing even resembling culture.

Religion, as one of the hallmarks of a developing civilization, was new among the primitives, and while most of the larger tribes were eager to begin worshipping a higher life form, choosing a supreme being was something they had not yet acquired a knack for. Not realizing that their higher power could be someone or something they had never seen, groups of potential worshippers would travel across the countryside in search of something they could call Creator. These nomadic tribes would travel for years on end, not stopping until they managed to stumble upon some grand or bizarre landmark they could sacrifice their children to and call home. This need to traverse great distances for a glimpse of a bizarre yet potentially holy relic was so widespread that it still lives on in our primitive reptilian brains to this day . Eventually, these long and pointless treks resulted in groups such as the Tribe of the Smiling Rock, the Clan of the Endless Forest, and the People of the Angry Mountain, whose "Angry Mountain” turned out to be an active volcano .

But not all people are cut out for extensive traveling, and there were many tribes that weren't too wild about the idea of wandering aimlessly until something jumped out and went “Boo”. Of course, these were dangerous times, and any prospective deity that actually did jump out and shout “Boo” would find himself bludgeoned to death by large sticks.

The more unadventurous tribes placed their faith in things closer to home. Being inherently lazy and unimaginative, these groups chose different aspects of nature to worship. Worshipping oddly shaped mountains and weird geographical anomalies can be nifty, but they can wear on the foot leather. Nature, however, is everywhere. There’s so much nature out there that if you throw a rock, you’ll probably hit it, especially since rocks also count as nature. So, most of these simplistic tribes settled on rather obvious objects to worship, such as trees, water, fire, and even mud. The abundance of these ‘holy relics’ allowed them to easily relocate without having to worry about anything as troublesome as dying to protect a sacred shrine/landmark from deity-hungry nomads, who were quickly running out of unnatural landmarks to base their religions on. These tribes showed their lack of inspiration with names such as the Tree People, the Mud People, the Water People, and the Fire Lads .

But among these various clusters of makeshift theology was one special tribe that was a tad more original than the rest. These squat, swarthy people chose an unusual animal as their symbol of servitude; an odd and to this day unidentified breed of prehistoric moose with misaligned eyes, a wide gaping jaw, and an altogether dazed expression. Keeping true to their name, this tribe showed their awe and admiration for this wonderful slack-jawed beast by following large herds of it wherever they roamed. This was quite a challenge, as these animals did not base their travel patterns on weather conditions or food availability. They would simply wander from one location to the next, often winding up in extremely hazardous regions with harsh climates. It was the selfless love of these herd followers, who would feed and water them, as well as build makeshift shelters over them while they slept, that prevented these majestic creatures from dying out altogether.

Throughout their sojourns, the moose followers would often wander into territories belonging to some of the other tribes. Needless to say, the other tribes would mock and ridicule them for choosing such an ugly and mindless creature to worship. The Tribe of the Smiling Rock frowned upon them (the highest of all insults), the Clan of the Endless Forest beat them with sticks, and the People of the Angry Mountain shouted nasty things about their mothers while throwing handfuls of leaves in their general direction. The Tree, Mud, and Water people pelted them respectively with sticks, rocks, and water balloons . The Fire People, who were not yet skilled with their namesake, burned their hands repeatedly while trying to throw flames at them, and in the end settled on dirty looks. While the scorn and disdain heaped upon them varied, they were invariably identified by the same title no matter whose land they happened upon. To all they encountered, they were known as the Followers of the Mongoloid Moose.

These hapless people followed their false idols into the mountainous regions of Canada, where their numbers were greatly reduced by cold weather, food shortages, and random attacks by French Canadian Archers. The followers eventually split up after a rather troubling battle with the Protectors of the Fainting Goat that left them defeated, bruised, and more than a little embarrassed. Only a few diehard faithful stayed behind to tend to their unpredictable flock, and history has yet to discover their fate.

The Joy of Book Shopping, Part 2

5 bags, $5 a bag, 225 books. Total cost per book, less than $.03 each.

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The Joy of Book Shopping

Never underestimate how much quality reading material you can obtain at $5 a bag.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: Blood, Sweat & Tea by Tom Reynolds

With the popularity of Blogs on the rise, and the critical success of recent books and movies adapted from online journals, the number of Blogs reprinted into book form is increasing steadily. The rush to fill any growing market usually dictates quantity over quality, and this can often make it difficult to find the exceptional materials mixed in among the shelf-fillers. Blood, Sweat & Tea is one of those few excellent translations from the Internet to the book shelf, and is well worth the search.

The book launches straight into the daily diary entries from Tom Reynolds’ blog ( without any real setup or introduction, and it is a credit to the clarity and honesty of his writing that this is not a setback to enjoying the book. No real explanation is needed beyond the blurb on the back cover.

Blood, Sweat & Tea is a collection of daily online diary entries by Reynolds concerning his experiences as an emergency medical technician working for the London Ambulance Service in East London. Reynolds’ recaps of his time on the job clearly illustrate the ups and downs that go with such a demanding yet unappreciated vocation. He shares it all: humorous stories of false alarms and bizarre incidents, nerve-wracking brushes with the potential hazards of the job (such as the risk of exposure to HIV infected patients), frustrations concerning the politics and red tape behind the scenes of the medical services, and the emotional toll of dealing with life and death on a daily basis.

Never overly preachy, snarky, or flippant, Blood, Sweat & Tea is a tour through the trenches of on-site medical response units in the UK that will entertain and inform any and all interested in the topic.